The draft is in 11 days. The free agency moratorium starts four days after that.
And while the Thunder have a lot of offseason questions to answer — like who to take with a lottery pick and what to do with Kevin Martin — I feel like those answers hinge on one player.
Ronnie Brewer. Er, I mean Jeremy Lamb.
Basically, it’s this: If the Thunder think Jeremy Lamb is the real deal, and more importantly think he’s ready, the Thunder don’t need Kevin Martin, and they should focus entirely on drafting big on the 27th.
Allow me to rehash: The James Harden trade, which is already being labeled as a disaster by many, wasn’t about Martin. Martin was merely a stopgap while Lamb seasoned (get it? you get it). The trade really was for Lamb and what’s now the No. 12 pick. The Thunder may choose to keep Martin, but it would take him giving OKC a significant discount. He’s 30 years old and not the best fit in the world.
So while some have prematurely rushed to judgement on the Thunder’s return on Harden, the reality is that we don’t know if OKC came out alright. Watch those highlights above, via Crab Dribbles — D-League, I realize — and tell me Lamb doesn’t have some incredible offensive ability. And depending on who has their name called 12th, the Thunder could wind up with two productive players, at two different positions, in exchange for Harden.
(Aside: Is that enough for a superstar like James Harden? Absolutely not, but you have to realize that Harden was essentially on an expiring deal. Which greatly decreases his trade value, because if a team wanted him, they know they could wait a season and just sign him to a max offer sheet and not give up anything. The hook for OKC was that dealing Harden before the Oct. 31 deadline increased the trade value a bit because a team could offer him a fifth year on the max extension. Anyway, that’s enough of the rehash. But people still don’t seem to understand the parameters of the Harden deal and why OKC got what it got.)
Sam Presti said this in his exit interview: “Jeremy is definitely someone that we feel really good about. I think he’s going to be a contributor to our team at some point in the near future (emphasis mine). How much and how soon, I think some of that will be determined this summer. We’ve, again, been afforded the opportunity to have a very promising young player on our team that hasn’t been put in to action so to speak at this time. But I think he’s used the year wisely. The summer will be a continuation of that. And we think he’s a player that can really grow. He’s 20 years old at the moment … so Jeremy’s best basketball is still in front of him.”
How much and how soon will be determined this summer. That’s it right there. And it could also domino a few other roster transactions too. One catch: Both Summer League and training camp are after the Thunder have to make their roster calls. So they’re going to have to make some choices based on what they think of Lamb now, and those choices could reveal a little of what they think about him.
For instance, if the Thunder don’t see Lamb as the long-term answer, as I’ve floated, they could aggressively pursue moving up for Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore. Because the Thunder are hunting a young shooting guard. Thabo is 29 and will be on an expiring deal next season. After him, it’s DeAndre Liggins. And while I genuinely think think Liggins has a decent future ahead, he’s not the long-term answer they’re seeking.
Lamb was the Thunder’s third choice in a lot of ways. League sources have passed around that the Thunder targeted Klay Thompson first, then Bradley Beal. Lamb was a fit mostly because of the lottery pick, and the fact they got a veteran rental in Martin with it. The Thunder weren’t taking on any future salary commitments, they got an asset and they got a talented young player with upside.
So with Martin’s future in the balance, the Thunder have to ask themselves how much they trust Lamb. If that’s a zero, then maybe you re-sign Martin for another season (or two, with a team option on the second year). If they feel sort of good about Lamb, at least enough to work him moderately into the rotation, maybe you sign some other bench help that unlike Martin, isn’t going to be as much directly in his way.
The player I keep coming back to is J.J. Redick, who I think would be a splendid fit with the Thunder. Watching the impact Danny Green has had on the Finals, it’s obvious to me the Thunder are missing a knockdown veteran shooter that fits into a role and can play it between 15 and 35 minutes. And Redick’s not a one-dimensional player. He’s a better-than-you-think defender and has the ability to create and score a little. The Thunder should have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception in their pocket and while there’s a very good chance Redick might get an $8 million offer on the open market, maybe he’d consider three years, $15 million from OKC to be on a contender.
Two other thoughts:
1) A very respected, highly intelligent writer told me in San Antonio he thinks Liggins could possibly grow into another Danny Green. I found that interesting, and can kind of see it.
2) Another fit would be Kyle Korver, but the problem there is he’s 32. Maybe a one-year deal, but players at 32 are looking for one last multi-year contract. Or, the Thunder could use their pick on that shooter — C.J. McCollum? — and go about it that way. I think some have stereotyped this idea of a “shooter” in the same way they spout of “post presence” but there’s more than just hiring a sharpshooter. Daequan Cook is a fantastic shooter, but he’s a one-dimensional one. You want a 3-and-D guy if possible and while Thabo shot 42 percent from 3 last season, he’s got a slow release and needs to be really open in order to take one.
But again, those ideas could get squashed if Lamb is headed for 30 minutes a night next season. And he might be. To be determined with Summer League and training camp. But the Thunder have to make decisions before both of those things happen, starting with the draft in 11 days. Which is my whole general point in this — Jeremy Lamb seems to hold the Thunder’s offseason in his hands.